“Killer” balloons – the truth about living with latex allergy

shutterstock_99203546  < CAPTION> Everyone loves balloons – but for latex allergy sufferers they can be deadly

When Beth Redpath stepped out of her car outside her home she instantly felt the familiar prickle of an allergic reaction  beginning in her throat.  ‘My breathing became tight and shallow and a red rash started to appear on my throat,’ recalls Beth. ‘Within minutes I was having a full-blown anaphylactic reaction – wheezing , gasping for breath and erupting in hives. It was terrifying.’

Luckily, Beth’s  mother was  on hand to call 999 and  inject her with adrenaline – but the attack was one of her worst, and in the ambulance Beth’s mother feared her 28-year-old  daughter would die. This attack was triggered by latex in freshly laid tarmac on the pavement outside her drive, which she had inhaled after it became airborne, but previous episodes have been triggered  by everything from preservatives in champagne corks, rubber-backed carpets, medical gloves  and elastic bands. She has also developed a nightmarish cross reactivity to some fruits and vegetables which contain proteins similar to those in latex – so now some foods trigger attacks too.

The road works episode is the latest in 27 emergency hospital admissions  Beth, a marketing manager from Surrey, has had to endure in the last 18 months because of her allergy to latex – a protein found in rubber sap, used in countless  everyday products from medical and cleaning rubber gloves,  car tyres and airbags, to condoms, elastic bands, office equipment and even champagne  corks, but also  balloons, paints and tarmac.

You can read Beth’s full story here in today’s Daily Mail Good Health section http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2353187/The-hidden-epidemic-allergy-affects-thousands-triggered-roadworks.html


CAPTION: Latex rubber sap is a natural product used in thousands of everyday items and difficult to avoid

Beth wanted to do a story in a national newspaper  about her latex allergy because she is frustrated at the lack of awareness  surrounding the condition. She told me: ‘Everybody thinks the latex allergy problem has gone away because most NHS hospitals now use either latex-free or low protein gloves – but there are still hundreds of thousands of people who remain sensitised to latex and there are  just so many products containing latex in everyday use that it is increasingly difficult to avoid.

‘For instance, I’ve even walked into a hospital foyer and come across a charity handing out latex balloons – triggering an attack. The same thing happened at trade exhibition I attended recently. Despite the organisers assuring me that there would be no balloons at the event, a supplier brought them along and decorated stalls with them. The same thing has happened  to me in restaurants too. I can’t even go to a supermarket  without wearing a mask because there is a  risk food may have been contaminated with latex in a processing plant or factory. I can’t live a normal life.’shutterstock_125575664CAPTION: LATEX GLOVES:  The HIV/ Aids  epidemic in the 1980s and early ’90s triggered an upsurge in latex allergy cases

Whilst  some people with latex allergy will suffer nothing more than an itchy rash when they encounter latex gloves  (known as a type IV sensitivity), some people  (like Beth) will go onto develop  a more severe type 1 allergy which produces hay fever type symptoms and  hives and can result in a full-blown anaphylactic reaction. Beth developed a mild type IV sensitivity to latex at 16 when she started using latex gloves  during her science A levels studies but this turned into a type 1 sensitivity  at 21 and 18 months ago she had her first  anaphylactic reaction.

Latex is  increasingly hard to avoid and although many hospital either use latex-free or low-protein, hundreds of thousands of people remain sensitised to  it and  are theoretically at risk of developing a type 1 allergy and having an anaphylactic reaction.


< CAPTION> Some  wine   corks may contains preservatives containing latex

The latex allergy problem clearly hasn’t gone away – although if you talk to some people you’ll get the impression that particular health problem is done and dusted and has all been solved by  medical staff wearing latex free gloves etc. For latex allergy sufferers though the problem is  still very real: another women I interviewed for the Daily Mail piece has had so many anaphylactic attacks in the last 17 years that  she barely leaves the house unless a relative trained to use an EpiPen can accompany her.

Latex balloons appear to be the biggest bugbear as they can literally pop up from  nowhere and cause anaphylactic attacks. So next time you’re having a party or organising promotional activities at work, spare a thought for Beth Redpath and think twice about the  latex balloons  (or buy foil ones instead)…. for some, the consequences could be life threatening.

For more information go to




P.S. Here’s a  link to another article  I’ve written about allergies  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2242522/Did-eating-chicken-tikka-deadly-allergy.html


  1. Greetings,
    I too became sensitized from latex after wearing latex gloves during my 28 year nursing career. I have a Type 1 that requires me to carry EpiPens. I have cross reactive food syndrome and cannot eat anything related to the rubber(latex) tree. Bananas, avacado, chestnut, kiwi are the highest on the list. The second highest list is pitted fruits, melons, tomatoes, potatoes, and the list goes on. If I am out in stores or attending art/music fests, grocery stores, book stores, libraries, even churches, hospitals, dental offices and restaurants I have to be diligent to not come in contact with latex balloons or inhale latex of any kind. Asphalt on the road causes me to feel bad and if it is newly paved I have a reaction. I immediately feel very sick, cannot breathe, feel throat is getting tight or feel weird sensation in face and throat, feel itching every where, nauseated, stomach cramping, feel anxious like something is going to happen, get a fast heart beat like 160 or a very irregular heart beat, feel faint, dizzy, hives or a rash, flushed face, confused, feel like your air has been cut off and you feel very helpless and scared. We who have this allergy suffer in silence. Education is my goal so that every one is aware of the dangers of repeated exposure of latex so that they never have to suffer or have their life totally impacted in a horrible way with this allergy. I really wish for a cure for latex allergy. We have to take large doses of antihistamines like Claritin, Allegra, Benadryl to just get through the day.They have many side effects one being dementia. Alot of us have Albuterol inhalers or are on Singulair to help us breathe. I would like to see the Health Department specify that the gloves required in restaurants and school cafeterias be vinyl or nitrile. No latex. Latex gloves were meant for the medical field to protect against blood borne pathogens not to be used in restaurants or food establishments. I would like to have an accurate number of people who have had the actual blood test and are allergic to latex. I believe it would be huge. I also would like our legislators who we elect into office to protect us and protect the innocent people whose employers are making them wear latex gloves at work. Get rid of the latex gloves immediately. Wear vinyl or nitrile which is cheaper as well. As I close I want to say that it is time that us who have this latex allergy have a voice and be heard to help not only us, but to protect others.

    1. Hi Melanie ,
      Thank you for your comments about cross reactive food syndrome – I understand this is becoming a big problem but it doesn’t get much coverage. Hope you found the article helpful. Kind regards Jo

  2. I have read two articles (that I recently found) that you wrote regarding latex allergies. I am not from the UK (I am actually from the US – California), but I wanted to deeply and honestly thank you for shining a light on this allergy. Even though, here in the US, we outnumber people with other allergies (like food allergies) we are oftentimes left out of the press. (Although, latex allergies have gotten so bad here that 3 states have already passed legislation to limit or ban the use of latex gloves in some disciplines.)The lack of media has led to a lack of knowledge about this disease. I have only read your two articles called: “The hidden epidemic of the allergy that affects thousands and can even be triggered by roadworks” and “‘Killer’ balloons – the truth about living with latex allergy.” If you have written anything else on latex allergies, I would love to read those articles as well (and I will search the internet for them)!

    Again, I wrote to you to simply THANK YOU!! You are making such an incredible impact and I wish that more journalists were like you. THANK YOU!!

    1. Thanks Jillian it’s good to know this post has helped someone – I know from interviewing Beth Redpath what a nightmare latex allergy can be and how difficult it can be to avoid exposure.

      1. I know how Beth feels…. I too have the same reactions… Even the clothes I buy can contain latex… Or be hung on hangers that have latex on them.

        This holiday season, I pray that nordstoms, red robins and others will announce their efforts to discontinue latex balloons. Grocery stores should also start using synthetic gloves when handling food. Or, the biggest obstacle, cities, please stop putting up rubber soccer fields and play areas.

        Thank you.

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